According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth ed. (DSM-5), Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is defined as “persistent pattern of inattention and/or hyperactivity-impulsivity” that interferes with one’s daily function or development in multiple areas. Individuals with symptoms of ADHD often fail to give close attention to details, don’t follow instructions, have difficulty organizing tasks and activities, are forgetful, and lose things. The hyperactive component often presents itself as inability to sit still, excessive talking, and a need for constant movement. Children with ADHD often struggle at school, being in trouble and “written up” all day, everyday. Adults with ADHD cannot focus at work, tend to be constantly restless and interruptive to others, talk too much, and cannot finish tasks they started. Sounds familiar?
I have learned some fascinating facts from my functional medicine doctor, Dr. David Jockers. Specifically, I discovered that molecular genetic studies have identified several genes that may mediate susceptibility to attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). A consensus of the literature suggests that when there is a dysfunction in the “brain reward cascade,” especially in the dopamine system, causing a low or hypo-dopaminergic trait, the brain may require dopamine for individuals to avoid unpleasant feelings. This high-risk genetic trait leads to multiple drug-seeking behaviors, because the drugs activate release of dopamine, which can diminish abnormal cravings. Moreover, this genetic trait is due in part to a form of a gene (DRD2 A1 allele) that prevents the expression of the normal laying down of dopamine receptors in brain reward sites.
Additional research has looked at dysfunctions in the serotonin and GABA pathways and the relationship to ADHD. Serotonin and GABA are both necessary for calming the brain and inhibiting distracting stimuli. It is obvious from this research that genetic polymorphysisms and developmental challenges with neurotransmitter function are critical factors in ADHD.
For the purpose of this article, I will assume that you are either suspecting a diagnosis of ADHD in yourself or your child or have already been diagnosed with it. Typically, individuals with ADHD are most often prescribed stimulant medications such as Ritalin, Dexedrine and Adderall, often without proper psychological assessment. I cannot emphasize the importance of a full psychological evaluation as incorrect and insufficient diagnostic method may lead to a prescription medication that may bring more harm than help.
The role of psychotropic medications is to increase dopamine and norepinephrine levels in the brain. These neurotransmitters are critical for goal setting, concentration and focus. However, this does not come without a price. Common side effects include restlessness, dizziness, insomnia, headache, dryness of the mouth, gastrointestinal complaints and weight loss. Ritalin and Adderall are classified as “Schedule II” drugs (along with cocaine) by the Drug Enforcement Agency to indicate drugs with a high potential for abuse.
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Potential side effects of ADHD meds include:
There has been a tremendous amount of research linking the gut microbiome and neurological health. Research has indicated that low levels of healthy lactobacillus and bifidobacterium are linked with increased brain exciteability and neurological inflammation.
A 2013 study evaluated 742,939 children and demonstrated that those children with ADHD had a dramatic increased prevalence of constipation almost threefold higher than those without ADHD. Fecal incontinence was sixfold higher in the ADHD group, and visits to the doctor because of bowel issues was also dramatically increased in kids with ADHD.
Gut motility is a critical factor in the development and maintenance of a healthy microbiome. Individuals with ADHD most often have slow motility and a proliferation of microbes that secrete neurotoxic compounds such as lipopolysaccharides (LPS).
ADHD is commonly seen associated with an inflammatory based diet and toxic food additives, dyes and preservatives. These food industry based chemicals are mild-moderately neurotoxic. They also have a strong synergistic affect when combined with sugars such as fructose .
A recent Lancet study concluded that food dyes along with the preservative sodium benzoate (found in many soft drinks, fruit juices, & salad dressings) cause many individuals to become significantly more distractible. This study also found that food additives and dyes can do as much damage to the brain as lead in gasoline.
Gluten is the common protein molecule found in wheat, barley, rye, kamut and spelt. Gluten is a sticky storage protein that binds to the small intestinal wall where it often causes digestive and immune system disorders.
There is extensive research about gluten sensitivity and disorders in every part of the neurological system. Gluten is a significant trigger in neurodevelopmental disorders such as ADHD. 73%, that’s 3 out of 4 people, with gluten sensitivity have lack of blood flow to their brain. If you have one of these issues it is critical to go 100% gluten-free.
An anti-inflammatory diet nutrition plan that is low in carbohydrate and rich in healthy fats and anti-oxidants is critical to preventing and treating ADHD. The brain is primarily water, fat and cholesterol. These are all key building blocks for promoting healthy brain function and rebuilding a damaged brain.
The proper nutrition plan to beat ADHD is rich in phytonutrient dense vegetables, healthy fat and clean protein sources. Healthy fat sources such as coconut, avocados, olive oil & sprouted nuts and seeds must take a central role in the diet to promote healthy brain function.
There are many key nutrients that enhance the functioning of individuals with ADHD. Omega 3 fatty acids are perhaps the most effective nutrient in enhancing concentration and focus in ADHD individuals. Omega 3 fatty acids and in particular the long chain variety EPA and DHA are critical for stabilizing blood sugar, improving neurogenesis and neurotransmitter production.
Want to learn more? Check out this post about specific, actionable strategies to beat ADHD naturally.
Sources For The Above Research Include: